800 St. Joseph Sonoma County healthcare workers will strike Thursday, June 9

NewsMay 27, 2016

Caregivers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Petaluma Valley Hospital protest understaffing, low wages, drastic cuts to benefits

St. Joseph has enjoyed unprecedented profits while racking up deficiencies in patient care

SONOMA COUNTY — Caregivers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Petaluma Valley Hospital will hold a one-day strike Thursday, June 9, to protest St. Joseph Health System’s profit-driven approach to healthcare at the two Sonoma County facilities.

The strike will begin at 6 a.m. Thursday and continue until 6 a.m. Friday. Caregivers will picket in front of the two hospitals Thursday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. St. Joseph has signaled that it will retaliate by locking the workers out for additional days.

NUHW-represented workers at the two hospitals are protesting:

1. St. Joseph’s practice of understaffing and its harmful impacts on patient care. According to the California Department of Public Health’s Licensing & Certification Division, St. Joseph’s understaffing has contributed to patient falls and increased risk of bedsores, infection, and errors in patient care. The two hospitals recorded twice as many regulatory incidents per occupied bed than Sutter or Kaiser and ten times as many violations of state standards governing the quality of care. Data from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development confirm that St. Joseph’s Sonoma County nursing staffing levels declined by 15.5% from 2011 to 2014.

“No one wants a strike, but St. Joseph’s administrators have left us no choice,” said Sue Daly, a licensed vocational nurse at Memorial Hospital for 36 years. “They’ve refused to heed our warnings about short-staffing and its effects on the care we provide, and patients are paying the price.”

2. Turnover. Low staffing levels, lower standards of care, and stagnant wages have caused experienced caregivers to leave for better-paying jobs at Kaiser and Sutter. On average, St. Joseph’s Sonoma County caregivers make 25% less than Kaiser caregivers and 9% less than those at Sutter. And while it takes a Kaiser worker just seven years to reach the highest wage level, it takes 21 years for a St. Joseph caregiver, meaning they make hundreds of thousands less over the course of their careers. 

3. Drastic cuts in benefits. During a period of soaring profits, St. Joseph unilaterally implemented severe cuts to the retirement benefits of Petaluma Valley caregivers and is threatening the same cuts for Santa Rosa Memorial employees. 

“St. Joseph’s benefit cuts sent morale plummeting at Petaluma Valley,” said Patricia Barnett, a radiology tech at the hospital. “While they’re cutting staffing levels, cutting benefits, and keeping wages low, they’re making huge profits.”

Since 2009, Memorial and Petaluma Valley Hospital together have brought in more than $242 million in profit for St. Joseph. Memorial’s profits are up 1,600% since 2009.

Caregivers urge St. Joseph Health to:

• Establish staff-to-patient ratios and an effective acuity-based staffing system to ensure that caregivers can deliver timely, quality care.

• Establish patient-care committees composed of caregivers and hospital managers to investigate staffing problems and design workable solutions, with the help of a third-party expert to resolve disagreements. Such a system has already been adopted by dozens of California hospitals.

• Make pay and benefits competitive with Sutter and Kaiser in order to enhance the recruitment and retention of experienced caregivers.

NUHW’s report and video can be found at NUHW.org/STJreport. The North Bay Jobs with Justice Workers’ Rights Board, which affirmed NUHW’s findings, can be found at northbayjobswithjustice.org.

NUHW represents more than 800 caregivers at Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley, as well as 500 St. Joseph healthcare workers at St. Joseph Hospital Eureka and Redwood Memorial Hospital in Humboldt County. NUHW.org.